Maine’s lobster industry is threatened by “a perfect storm” as it faces a crippling lack of demand because of both the pandemic and the China trade war, and a cascade of impacts from the development of government-mandated restrictions seeking to protect the endangered right whale. All Mainers should be aware of how political pressure to reverse the decline of right whales is affecting our fishermen, bringing with it disastrous ripple effects that will affect tens of thousands of livelihoods across our treasured state. Despite Maine’s stellar track record in protecting right whales, this battleground recently resulted in the loss of a sustainability certification, which means loss of even more markets for Maine lobster.

The Maine lobster industry is the backbone of our coastal communities from Portland to Eastport. Machias Savings Bank has been one of Maine’s leading sources of financing for this industry for decades and we understand that as the industry ebbs and flows, so do the economies of Maine’s coastal communities.

Since the 1990s, Maine lobstermen have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to the protection of whales by making significant changes to how they fish, consistently adhering to whale-protection standards, participating in discussions of best practices to ensure whale safety and being actively involved in the development of new materials and techniques that are safer for whales. According to data collected by the National Marine Fisheries Service, no right whale deaths or serious injuries have ever been documented in Maine lobster gear. I have many good friends who are lobster fishermen. My son is a lobster fisherman. I have asked many of them about this issue and not only have they never had a right whale tangled in their gear, they have never seen a right whale while tending their gear in Maine!

By contrast, Canada’s first whale entanglement mitigation measures were not implemented until after a mass mortality event in 2017, and still more than 20 right whale deaths have been reported over the last three years. Regulators would be better served to enact effective management measures in Canada rather than targeting Maine, where right whales are rare and the lobster fishery has a stellar track record for whale protection.

Maine fishermen, who have the most vested interest in sustainable efforts to protect the marine environment that supports their livelihood, have made numerous ongoing adjustments as dictated, but understandably want to ensure the proposed measures are rooted in strong scientific research that will support a positive impact on the whale population before committing to further limitations, restrictions and costly equipment changes.

According to the Department of Marine Resources, Maine’s lobster industry brought in approximately $500 million to Maine’s economy in 2018, accounting for more than three-quarters of the state’s annual commercially harvested marine resources. Tens of thousands of Maine businesses would be affected by the loss of lobstering – from the obvious restaurants and seafood shacks to the truck drivers who deliver the product and the souvenir shops that cater to the Maine experience. The lobster industry is estimated to create over 35,000 jobs on the working waterfront, in addition to the 4,500 state-licensed lobstermen. The impact on this industry would cause a ripple effect that we can perhaps all understand a little more clearly after the supply chain shortages and business closures we’ve experienced firsthand over the past four months.

Machias Savings Bank has shown its support for the Maine Lobstermen’s Association with a $10,000 donation to the MLA Legal Defense Fund to support Maine’s lobstermen in the fight to continue doing their jobs.

I ask the people of Maine to stand with me in supporting the industry that has buoyed Maine’s economy for decades. This is an urgent, statewide issue that you can – and should – have an impact on. Please consider what is at stake for the state of Maine, educate yourself on the MLA’s request for support to cover its legal expenses and, if you’re able, make a contribution.

Because lobstering supports a whole lot more than just our fishermen.

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